Attorneys fired over politics, ex-aide says
Source: St. Petersburg Times
"WASHINGTON - Eight federal prosecutors were fired last year because they did not sufficiently support President Bush's priorities, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff says in remarks prepared for delivery to Congress today.
In the remarks obtained by the Associated Press on Wednesday, Kyle Sampson maintains that adherence to the priorities of the president and attorney general was a legitimate standard.
Separately, the Justice Department admitted Wednesday it gave senators inaccurate information about the firings and presidential political adviser Karl Rove's role in trying to secure a U.S. attorney's post for one of his former aides, Tim Griffin.
In a letter accompanying new documents sent to the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Justice officials acknowledge that a Feb. 23 letter to four Democratic senators erred in asserting that the department was not aware of any role Rove played in the decision to appoint Griffin to replace U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark.
In his remarks, Sampson speaks dismissively of Democrats' condemnation of what they call political pressure in the firings.
"The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial," he says. "A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective ... is unsuccessful."
Democrats have described the firings as an "intimidation by purge" and a warning to remaining U.S. attorneys to fall in line with Bush's priorities.
Sampson resigned this month because of the furor over the firings.
"Presidential appointees are judged not only on their professional skills but also their management abilities, their relationships with law enforcement and other governmental leaders and their support for the priorities of the president and the attorney general," Sampson says in his prepared remarks.
He strongly denies Democrats' allegations that some of the prosecutors were dismissed for pursuing Republicans too much and Democrats not enough in corruption cases.
The White House said it will withhold comment on Sampson's testimony until he testifies.
In a letter accompanying documents sent to lawmakers Wednesday, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling said that certain statements in last month's letter to Democratic lawmakers appeared to be "contradicted by department documents included in our production."
The Feb. 23 letter, which was written by Sampson but signed by Hertling, emphatically stated that "the department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin." It also said that "the Department of Justice is not aware of anyone lobbying, either inside or outside of the administration, for Mr. Griffin's appointment."
Those assertions are contradicted by e-mails from Sampson to White House aide Christopher G. Oprison on Dec. 19, 2006, about a strategy to deal with senators' opposition to Griffin's appointment. In the e-mail, Sampson says there is a risk that senators might balk and repeal the attorney general's newly won broader authority to appoint U.S. attorneys.
"I'm not 100 percent sure that Tim was the guy on which to test drive this authority, but know that getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.," Sampson wrote. "